Gambia MP defends bid to legalise female genital mutilation

Tuesday, Apr 09, 2024

DAKAR: Gambian lawmaker Almaneh Gibba started his campaign to overturn a 2015 ban on female genital mutilation after the West African country imposed its first fines on those found guilty of the practice last year.

Despite concerns about the leniency of the sentences - a $220 fine for three women accused of cutting eight infant girls - anti-FGM activists welcomed the ruling as a rare victory against a culture of impunity that typically shields offenders in countries where such mutilations occur.

But the convictions also prompted a backlash among Gambia religious leaders and inspired Gibba’s push to overturn the 8-year ban on what he calls female circumcision.

Parliament is now considering a bill proposed by Gibba to the alarm of advocacy groups who say it represents a step backwards in efforts to end a practice that can cause myriad health issues.

Around 180 civil society organisations signed an open letter in October urging Gambia’s government to uphold the anti-FGM law.

It is “not just a legal imperative but a moral obligation,” Gambia’s former vice president Isatou Touray, now Gambia’s highest-profile campaigner against the practice, said in February.

“With the world watching, history will judge us based on the actions we take,” she wrote in an op-ed.

Gibba, an independent MP and government critic, told Reuters the ban was not wanted by most people in Gambia, a predominantly Muslim country where some believe cutting a part of the clitoris is required by Islam and key to a girl’s passage to womanhood.

“We will not be dictated by Western philosophy and their views on what we do,” he said. “Who are they to tell us our culture, our religion, our traditional beliefs?”